Individuals entering the world of work today may not have experienced working alongside their colleagues five days a week – ‘their careers may be marked by the lack of that’, according to broker boss

By Editor Katie Scott

It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the world of work.

Gone are five day working weeks where each and every day was spent in the physical, central workplace, sat next to colleagues, where commuting and debating which Pret sandwich to buy were daily considerations.

Following the onset of numerous lockdowns and social distancing rules over the past two years, home working and then hybrid working – which combines office and home-based working during the working week – have become the norm, with office-based working increasingly becoming a choice rather than a requirement, dependent on your job role and sector of course.

Katie Scott_bw_path

Katie Scott

However, back in April 2022, journalist Jon Guy wrote that the London market had been struggling to get its employees to come back to the office at all – he said that “brokers and underwriters working across the Square Mile” had become “victims to their own success” and were staying at home to work, utilising new digital methods that continued to enable efficient hybrid working and communications.

Speaking to Warren Downey - group chief executive of intermediary firm Specialist Risk Group (SRG) - this week, he confirmed that encouraging staff to return to London was still an important talking point for the industry.

In his opinion, facilitating hybrid working can empower a business to be “a brilliantly flexible, forward thinking, nimble employer” – however, this “works bests” for existing staff, rather than employees who may join the company in the future.

“Any business that is expanding has got to have in mind the people that aren’t here yet, but will be,” he explained.

He told me about new starter onboarding he conducted last week, where being appointed by SRG primarily marked the fresh employees’ first or second job. Being able to learn from colleagues, therefore, is vital for their career progression – yet Downey feels hybrid working can hamper such growth.

Downey continued: “[New, younger employees that start a job hybrid working have] never sat round the table learning from their neighbour, having a bit of community and banter and their careers may be marked by the lack of that.

“We are increasingly mindful of the fact that that is less than perfect and we haven’t struck the balance yet – not as a company and not as an industry.

“We’ve got some people working for us now that wouldn’t be here if we weren’t comfortable with remote working and we have all sorts of ways of keeping people engaged.

“We have below industry levels of turnover, but if you multiple it by five years and [consider] our normal level of expansion, more than 50% of our staff will never have worked five days a week alongside a colleague from whom they learn – and that does concern me.

“We are debating it on a regular basis to say ‘are we getting it right?’. That’s the job, to get it right.”

London losing influence?

Downey additionally feels that the lack of peer-to-peer learning opportunities presented by hybrid working could also detrimentally impact the London insurance market.

He explained: “One has to be careful what one wishes for and the London market has been built on the accumulation of expertise in one place.

“It’s been built on the fact that you can sustain that expertise by learning from your boss, your line manager, your leader. You then grow your own knowledge, take it to the next level with a new set of clients as generations change.

“If you remove that hub of things together, where there’s a lot of rubbing off of ideas and creativity and learning and development, then you aren’t any different to anywhere else.

“We can either accept that or we need to sustain those things that made it unique in the first place. My feeling is we’ve not quite got the balance yet.

“The balance will lean towards more London presence [moving forward], but it will never be what it was [pre-pandemic].”

Better understanding productivity

Downey makes a good point. Having had new starters in my own team during this pandemic period, it has certainly been more effective to brainstorm content ideas and strategies with them, as well as deliver feedback, in person rather than typing yet another Microsoft Teams message.

I’m certainly not knocking hybrid working – I actually really enjoy it. However, to fully get the most out of hybrid working, I’ve had to change my perception of productivity.

Productivity when I’m working from home is feature writing and editing, proofing magazine pages and utilising the peace and quiet of my home office to knock out larger pieces of work or projects.

Productivity when I’m in our Holborn office is catching up with colleagues from other departments, participating in face-to-face brainstorming and packing in internal and external meetings.

Too often, I believe it’s easy to get dragged into feeling unproductive while in the office due to the time spent commuting and the lack of checking items off your to-do list as you stumble between back-to-back meetings.

However, understanding that office productivity is about people and will differ from the productivity and tasks you complete while homeworking will really help unlock the best of both worlds that hybrid working facilitates.

To Downey’s point, if office-based days are then earmarked as learning opportunities and collaboration days, this should help mitigate the potential for stunted career development – alongside the implementation of other training tools and mentoring of course.

The last thing the UKGI industry wants after all is for London to lose its shine as the leader of the global insurance market.